By Giampiero Pitisci
The exhibition Te Kust en te Keur (literally All in abundance) runs through the end of September in Mu.ZEE, Ostend. Curated by Lucy Mc Kenzie, the exhibition combines works of different women artists and designers: Lucy McKenzie, Beca Lipscombe (who created Atelier EB in 2007 with Lucy McKenzie and Bernie Reid), Lucile Desamory, Caitlin Keogh and pelican avenue. The same group previously showed their work in the 2011 exhibition Town-Gown Conflict at Kunsthalle in Zurich.
The genesis of the project can be found in the Mu.ZEE building itself, a former co-operative supermarket with an impressive glazed facade. The building, designed by architect Gaston Eysselinck in 1947 for the cooperative SEO (Thrift Economy Ostend) was used as a department store for many years before they went bankrupt in 1981. It has been the home of Mu.ZEE since 1986.
Huge windows rearranged with big paper silhouettes, clothes, paintings, fake and real goods, that seem to be simultaneously fine art objects and commercial products, display effects and pieces of advertising of an imaginary department store that reintegrate the original function of the building. For the show, Lucy McKenzie (UK, based in Brussels since 2006) has produced a collection of large paintings that advertise the various departments of this fictitious shop and the goods on offer; Beca Lipscombe (UK) has created an editorial 'story' for a non-existent magazine and promotional display using Atelier EB's clothing, alongside products by companies they collaborate with and second-hand pieces which inspire her; Lucile Desamory (BE, based in Berlin) set up an elaborated dressed window display akin to a hypothetical shopping stage; Caitlin Keogh (US) has produced a set of painted posters inspired by the Surrealism of the late 1930s; finally, pelican avenue (BE) presents new uniforms for the museum attendants as well as an abundance of draped fabric covering every floor of the museum. The installation is remarkably illuminated by lighting designer Artur Castro Freire for nocturnal pedestrians. Though all the products can’t really be seen at first glance, a deliberate sensation of “wonderment” emerges from the whole.
If the project apparently pursues the exploration for a “both creative consumption and mercantile dimension of fine arts”, the way the space is engaged in this process deals less with a neo-pop strategy and/or mass consumption critique than with intimacy and memory that rearticulate with irony and nostalgia the consumerism-pleasure pair. Yet objects can be seen as both fine art and commercial articles, but the nature and hybridisation of the proposition create a dialogue that surpasses mere media critiques in favour of a more intimate recovery of artefacts and textiles mixing memories and cultural heritage (where the 1900s meet the 1980s) in a narrated vision of European elegance and the sublime of palatial department stores that flourished in Paris, Berlin or Vienna at the beginning of the 1900’s.
This collective project sheds a new light on the current and sometimes problematic landscape of appropriations of art by design and vice versa. Especially by insisting on the collaborations of different practices, from fine arts, advertising, fashion, decoration, illustration; where crafts contribute to reactivate origins and function of style – a historically and socially invested notion of style. This is a strategy that has been seen in the previous exhibit, Inventors of Tradition (Lucy McKenzie/ Beca Lipscombe for Atelier EB, Glasgow, 2011) in its twofold position regarding political usages of history of fashion. On one hand, a description of conditions of Scottish textile workers and companies, self-sufficiency and autonomy in the production of clothes, furniture and accessories, and on the other hand, a reaction to the delocalisation of Scottish textile industry (for more about The Inventors of Tradition, see www.ateliereb.com). Here elegance and style encompass William Morris’ Arts & Crafts Manifesto or the idealistic Marks & Spencer at the beginning, and have little to do with a postmodern notion of style as surface or accomplishment in luxury.
But still, if Te Kust en te Keur offers a significant extension to those previous exhibitions (Glasgow and Zurich) both concerned with textiles, it can also be regarded more prosaically as a temporary space for identity transactions that might ironically answer the question, “Why can shopping be so rewarding?” (or, "Why is shopping so rewarding?" Or, "Why can shopping be seen as so rewarding?" The various contributions here play around the weird idea of shopping as the way to fill an existential void without leading to any consensus or a “common women artists response” to textiles. The collaboration aims to support each work with different goals and different backgrounds.
Lucy’s paintings clearly highlight the way she asked this question. These fake advertisements and department store findings are aimed at the artist herself: “the way I wanted those advertisements to address my feelings and desires, in an image of myself buying something. The way I wanted something in this historical pastiche and eroticism that as a teenager I find deeply seductive (…) where paintings level advertising or any other commercial visual communication (…) where art in the real world “compete” with other contemporary stimulations about elegance or perfection”.
The obvious importance and tricks of craftsmanship that here characterises both applied and fine art finds an echo in what Lucy (who studied fake marbles and wood painting) recently reminds us in an interview with M.C. Chaimowicz and M. Bracewell, "if you want your work to appear immediately better, wash the windows".